Your Fight's on the Home Front!

Comic books published in in the years following WWII are a fascinating and under-scrutinized treasure trove of political and cultural commentary: they aren't considered sufficiently high-brow to warrant serious academic inquiry, but almost certainly did far more to shape the hearts and minds of a generation than any dusty political tome ever could.

One particularly curious sub-genre is "citizens' propaganda". It survives to this day in its vestigial form in the form of religious tracts, but back in its heyday, private citizens and organizations frequently commissioned comics to further all kinds of political goals, sometimes to hand out copies for free. Various 1950s anti-communist pamphlets might the best-known examples, but in my quest to unearth such gems, I accidentally stumbled upon something different:

At first blush, it seemed like your usual WWII action comic, but... hold up...

As it turns out, this book - published by the National Association of Manufacturers in 1951 - deals with fiscal and monetary policy, not war. Because I am somewhat fascinated by the history of money, this piqued my interest - so I set out to procure one of a handful of surviving copies and preserve it for others to read in the privacy of their homes (for the record, the title had maybe half a dozen Google hits before I posted this).

The book begins with soldiers apparently recovering in a field hospital, one of them waking up from a nightmare about what's going on back home. The setting is used for an improbable stroll through the history of failed fiscal policies, from ancient Rome to the Weimar Republic:

The book is, in essence, a warning against hyperinflation, although some of its prescriptions wouldn't sit well with fiscal conservatives of today. Interestingly, it was published at a time when the US was still one of the countries maintaining some pretense of a representative currency tied to gold (it wasn't until 1971, under Richard Nixon, when the dollar became a true fiat currency). The demand made in the last bullet item - to return to "convertible" money - is almost certainly a reference to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Order 6102 of 1933, which forced citizens to turn in privately-owned gold in exchange for dollars at a discounted rate. It wasn't until the switch to fiat money that the prohibition on private gold was fully repealed; between 1933 and 1971, the converibility of the dollar was a bit of a sham.

So, why did the National Association of Manufacturers feel the need to spend their own money to produce and distribute this book? There might be a self-serving explanation, but if so, it's not apparent to me: two of the talking points on the back cover - a call for higher worker efficiency and for deregulation - could obviously benefit the industry. But many others - such as increasing taxes, ending subsidies, tightening credit, and curtailing government spending - clearly did not. Perhaps their worries were sincere: they believed that without decisive action, the scenario in the comic book would eventually come to pass.

(PS. The pamphlet was also released a bit later under a more descriptive title, Inflation is Your Fight!. In both editions, the illustations are the work of Dan Barry of Flash Gordon fame.)

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